RENO — Gov. Brian Sandoval looks like he’s headed toward an easy victory and Republicans across Nevada are becoming increasingly optimistic amid an early GOP voting wave that has nervous Democrats scrambling to catch up from the top to the bottom of the ticket ahead of Tuesday’s general election.
“This is shaping up to be a pretty good year for Republicans,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno for most of the past two decades.
The popular governor has spent little time campaigning in his bid for a second term. Rather than worry about his Democratic opponent, Bob Goodman, who has little name recognition, few funds and scant backing, Sandoval has worked to elect state Sen. Mark Hutchison of Las Vegas to the lieutenant governor’s post and help keep his own options open for 2016.
All six statewide constitutional offices are on the ballot. Nevadans also are voting in all four U.S. House districts, where two incumbent Republicans and two incumbent Democrats are expected to hold their seats, although freshman Rep. Steven Horsford faces a stiffer challenge than originally expected from conservative GOP Assemblyman Cresent Hardy in the 4th District.
Republican leaders want Sandoval to challenge U.S. Sen. Harry Reid in 2016. Reid, the Senate’s majority leader, personally recruited Democratic Assemblywoman Lucy Flores of Las Vegas to run against Hutchison and has done everything in his power to steer money her way.
Reid effectively declared Goodman’s campaign dead when he disclosed to reporters in August that he’d rejected a request to hold a fundraiser for the 79-year-old Las Vegas businessman who won the Democratic nomination in embarrassing fashion — finishing second to “none of the above” in the June primary.
“I have these candidates I have to help raise some money, and I want it to be meaningful,” Reid said. “Raising a few bucks for him is not going to help him.”
Goodman, who was Nevada’s director of economic development in the 1970s, had raised only $7,000 headed into the final weeks of the campaign, compared to Sandoval’s more than $3.7 million.
Likewise, with Sandoval’s help, Hutchison had outspent Flores by a 4-to-1 margin in the race that will put one of them just one step away from the governor’s mansion.
Sandoval, 51, was immensely popular even before he helped land Tesla’s $5 billion “gigafactory” in September after a bidding war with more powerful states like California and Texas. Democrats have continued to blast him for underfunding education, but the Hispanic former attorney general and federal judge helped blunt criticism from the left when he formally pulled the plug last month on the state’s legal case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals against same-sex marriages.
In addition to the race for lieutenant governor, Sandoval’s coattails could play a role in the campaign for attorney general, where Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller faces Republican Adam Laxalt in a contest between candidates from a pair of Nevada families with storied political histories.
A combination of Republicans’ unexpected advantage in early voting and Democrats’ lukewarm interest in the midterm election also is fueling longtime Republican state Sen. Barbara Cegavske’s hope to upset Democratic Treasurer Kate Marshall in the race for secretary of state.
Democratic state controller Kim Wallin is running against Republican Dan Schwartz for treasurer and Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Martin is up against Republican Board of Regents member Ron Knecht for state controller.
In the congressional races, Hardy’s bid to knock off Horsford got a boost two weeks ago when a national conservative group co-founded by GOP operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie launched a $800,000 television ad buy attacking the former state Senate majority leader.
That got Democrats’ attention. Former President Bill Clinton traveled to Las Vegas early last week to headline a get-out-the vote rally and Vice President Joe Biden did the same on Saturday. President Obama also cut a radio ad last week urging Nevadans to re-elect Horsford in the district that stretches from north of Las Vegas to parts of northeast Nevada, and active registration breaks down 43 percent Democratic, 32 percent Republican and 19 percent nonpartisan.
Nevada’s most competitive congressional race early on was expected to be in the 3rd District, where two-term Republican Rep. Joe Heck is being challenged by Erin Bilbray, daughter of former Nevada congressman James Bilbray. But Bilbray’s chances appeared to wane in recent months as Democrats who had rallied around Obama became more critical of the administration.
Rep. Mark Amodei, running in the strongly rural Republican 2nd District against little-known Democrat Kristen Spees, and Rep. Dina Titus, facing equally unknown GOP challenger Annette Teijeiro in the Democratic-leaning 1st District, are expected to retain their seats.